green 5s example

10 tips for greening your 5S workplace organization events

5S is the foundation of any process improvement activity. When done correctly, it can dramatically change the mindset and efficiency of the people in a work, office or home environment. However, a 5S can also lead to an increase in landfill waste, cleaning chemical use, and exposure to toxic vapors. Check out our list of 10 tips to minimize the negative environmental impact of your 5S activity.

5S refresher

5S represents a five step process for organizing an area, with each step beginning with the letter S (both in English and Japanese):

  1. Sort (Seiri)
  2. Straighten (Seiton)
  3. Shine (Seisou)
  4. Stick To It (Seiketsu)
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke)

There are quite a few versions using different terms for each S, but the main thing is that you understand the intent of each step. The graphic below gives a quick overview of each phase. For this post, we assume you have some prior knowledge of 5S, so we’re not going to dig into the details of each phase (a link is provided to more detailed training at the bottom of the post).

Updated 5S naming convention based on Gwendolyn Galsworth at

5S can be performed in a factory, school, office, or within your home. Upon completion, you should have an organized environment where everything has a place, everything is in its place, and is ready for use, so the time to switch from task to task is as quick as possible, and you don’t waste time looking for items. In addition, when something isn’t put back, it should be obvious.

The before and after results can be very dramatic, and the after photos can also be used as a process standard, to show what the area needs to look like after every shift or workday. Look how nice the after photo is below!

chemical storage, before and after chemicals, office supply storage
Chemical storage before and after 5S event.

Completion of a 5S event results in the following benefits:

  • Reduced chance of injuries (slips, trips, falls, collisions, damage, etc)
  • Reduced costs
    • Not ordering supplies and items that you already have
    • Increased longevity of equipment, supplies and tools
  • Better tracking and visibility of project and task completions
  • Increased productivity
    • less clutter to sift through
    • Easier to find items (tools, documents, supplies, information, etc)
    • Reduced time to switch from task to task (setup time)
    • Employee morale (initial excitement after seeing the improvements)
  • Sets the stage for future improvements (more open to change)
  • Reduced floor space (less room needed to store unneeded items)
  • Less training time for new employees (labels and organization make it easy to follow how the processes work)
  • Makes waste and problems more visible (stand out from the rest)
  • And many more benefits…

However, along with these benefits comes a few environmental negatives, that need to be identified and minimized during the event, including:

  • Generation of trash and waste, that often ends up in the landfill, or does not get properly disposed of. In a rush to clean up an area, a team can go overboard with disposal, and the time constraint can often leave little time to properly categorize and sort the waste.
  • Use of hazardous chemicals while cleaning, which leads to exposure to toxic vapors.
  • Purchasing of new items to help with organizing the area (labels, tape, shelves, containers, etc).

10 Tips for a “Green” 5S

With some prior planning and thought, and making your team aware of some of these negatives, you can make it a successful “green” 5S event

Here are 10 tips to address these environmental impacts (printer-friendly version)

1) Include ES&H representatives

Invite a representative from your Environment, Safety and Health (ES&H) organization (or an expert on waste that you know) to participate in the event, or have them check-in frequently if they can’t attend the entire time. They are the experts on procedures and regulations that need to be followed, and can share best practices from other parts of the company.

2) Use safe cleaning supplies

Make sure you use natural or environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and products, that have little to no volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions. Especially during an event, there are a lot of people cleaning all at the same time, which is probably more than normal. If alternative chemicals are not available, make sure gloves and masks are worn. Encourage your cleaning crew or maintenance to use these safer products as well during their regular cleaning.

3) Avoid disposable towels and wipes

Use old rags and cloth wipes, that can be cleaned and reused, instead of paper towels and cleaning wipes, that will end up in the landfill.

4) Use eco-friendly tape to outline and mark off designated areas.

For everything to have its place, tape is used often to mark areas around desks, equipment, storage, walkways, and keep-out areas.

5) Isolate the trash before removal

Set the trash aside in its own designated area, don’t just put it in a dumpster and get rid of it. This staging area offers others (not directly involved in the event) a chance to see what is going to be removed, so they can make a case for why it should be saved, or put into storage. There are many horror stories of 5S events throwing out very important items, because the right people weren’t involved in the decision making.

In addition, we recommend taking the time to perform a waste audit on the trash, to understand where the items came from, how to avoid them in the future, and decide if there are other options to deal with them besides sending to the landfill. Make sure all recyclable items have been removed. We recommend using the following waste pyramid diagram to help you evaluate what can be done (note that disposal into the landfill is the last option).

Waste Pyramid - Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, dispose

6) Implement a yellow tag system

Yellow tagging is similar to red tagging (identifying items that need to be removed from the area), but they are used to help identify items that may be harmful to human health or the environment in the work area, that may require further investigation. Items such as a smelly whiteboard marker, a toxic or dangerous cleaning chemical for a machine, or a chemical that requires protective equipment (gloves and masks) when handling. Perhaps the item can be reduced or removed completely. Maybe there is an alternative option. Ask your ES&H representative, the supplier of the item, or other departments or companies how they deal with similar concerns. More information about yellow tags can be found on the Green Suppliers Network (look under 6S training within Module 5)

7) Laminate documents and papers

To avoid re-printing and using extra paper, consider laminating frequently used papers and documents to protect from damage, and reuse at a later time. Examples include: red tags (ready for disposal), yellow tags (hazardous items), 5S assessment tool, labels, and signs.

8) Use light and low-toxic paints

When putting on a fresh coat of paint on walls and floors, use low-toxic and low VOC emission paint suppliers, and select white or a light colors, which can help save lighting and energy costs.

9) Ask around before ordering new

Before ordering new shelving or storage containers, ask other areas or departments if they have something that will do the job. As a last resort, if you need to order something brand new, consider products that are made from recycled content. We recommend creating a very simple device from scrap paper or material, to make sure it will do the job, before spending money on a permanent solution.

10) Mark and properly label waste streams

Use different colored containers for hazardous waste, recycling, and other non-hazardous wastes to make sure differences are obvious to everyone who comes into the area. Mark aerosol cans with colored dots to indicate where to dispose of them when empty.

Now that you have completed the initial implementation of 5S (you’re never done!), setting up an audit program is important, in order to sustain the improvements over the long term. That is the biggest problem we run into with events, a lack of follow-up, and things will eventually revert back to the mess it was before.

The Green Suppliers Network (look under 6S training within Module 5) provides some questions to ask to help identify potential environmental issues and risks while performing these follow-up audits.

    • Are any leaks evident from equipment, piping, tanks, exhaust lines, or other areas in the workplace?
    • Is air quality in the work area good, and free of dust, odors, and fumes? Are ventilation systems clean and unobstructed?
    • Are all drains in good condition, free flowing, unobstructed and properly labeled?
    • Are exterior locations near storm water drains and storm water retention areas free from garbage and debris?
    • Are garbage and recyclables collected and sorted correctly? Are recycling containers and bins free from extraneous materials?
    • Are employees using the proper protective equipment when handling chemicals and hazardous waste?
    • Are workers in the area aware of chemical hazards associated with standard work tasks?

We are big supporters of 5S events, so don’t let this list of concerns discourage you from getting started. If you want a printer-friendly version of the 10 tips to carry with you during the event, download it here.

If you need a 5S training powerpoint deck that you can present to your team or company, that you can customize with your own logo, download some sample slides here. You can also download the 5S assessment tool, for assessing your area before and after the event.

You might also be interested in “Tips to Green Your Lean Event“, which is a list of ideas and suggestions to make your lean events more eco-friendly!

What other tips do you have, that we might have forgotten, to make your 5S event more green?